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Urban Designism’s

Having recently completed a Post-Graduate Diploma in Urban Design, it seemed appropriate to write a post on the Blog reflecting upon the discipline.

So, what makes a positive urban experience, and how does the actual design – the layout, orientation, materials, juxtapositions, views etc – of an urban environment actually influence the human beings who live, work and visit it? Can it makes them feel happy or sad, can it make them rich or poor, can it make their lives easier and safer? It seems, to me, a greater measure of a place that people enjoy being there, beyond purely the physical elements, or the visual architectural styles. When explaining ‘landscape character’, I always say it is about all of the ‘senses’, not just the visual; good design is how a place ‘feels’. This is, of course, why water is popular in public realm design as it is considered to have a ‘calming’ effect on users.

The study of urban design also focuses on peoples ‘journey’. How one, as an individual, moves around a place. Design features such as ‘sense of arrival’, ‘nodes’, ‘focal points’, ‘axes’, ‘views’ are all important elements in understanding the urban ‘fabric’. At Liz Lake Associates we strive to incorporate these ‘ingredients’ within our schemes, such as the Heyford Park residential development where, for example, we have included large ‘feature trees’ at the ends of roads to form focal points and orientation markers.

Paris

In the diploma, we reflected upon examples of good urban design from the streets of Rome, Paris, and Barcelona. Amongst other things, it is apparent that the ‘layers’ of any urban environment must be able to adapt and evolve if they are to stand the test of time. This is reflected in our heritage and conversation projects at Liz Lake Associates, where we work to retain and restore the best elements of historic landscapes, and adapt others, thus ensuring that the environments can be enjoyed and utilised by generations to come.

Barcelona

Bristol – where our South-West office is located – has a vast combination of historic urban environments and open spaces, as well as contemporary residential and commercial neighbourhoods. It has a growing reputation for looking at urbanism differently, was voted as the ‘Best Place to Live in Britain in March 2014’ (the Sunday Times UK Survey) and is the European Green Capital, 2015. Therefore, it provides a fascinating and inspiring location for any budding Urban Designer or Landscape Architect. Waterfront wharf buildings, once bustling with cargo and trade activities, are now restaurants and cafes, packed with today’s tourists and city-dwellers; they have adapted to the changing needs of the urban population.

Bristol

Today we are facing different challenges in the disciplines of Urban Design, and Landscape Architecture in particular, with regards to housing demands. At Liz Lake Associates we pride ourselves in producing well-considered and high quality designs, with a strong ‘sense of place’ and ‘identity’, to create a high standard of living for present and future users.

Finzel’s Reach, Bristol

In particular our skills and experience in Landscape Character and Visual Impact Assessments provide an important service to inform new development and that our masterplanning skills can produce a critical framework for individual projects. Furthermore, the increased political debate about development and housing can only serve to raise the profile of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design within the public perception, and thus increase the general understanding of the importance of both professions.

The end of an era for the Code for Sustainable Homes

Cast your mind back to before the general election when the coalition government was in power. Towards the end of March 2015 the government announced that the Code for Sustainable Homes policy was to be withdrawn.

First to provide some background; Initiated in 2006, the Code for Sustainable Homes has provided the national standard for design and construction of sustainable new build housing schemes. Used as a tool by local planning authorities, the Code rated the sustainability performance of all aspects of new housing on a 6 point scale. Some of you may remember the Grand Designs Eco House (designed by Architects Studio Bark) which achieved Code level 6 and how stringent both the design and build processes were.

Eco_House_Grand Designs

However, the vast majority of planning conditions imposed by local authorities for ‘regular’ new build schemes over the last 9 years have usually stipulated conformance to Code Level 3 or 4, prior to the occupation of any dwelling with a final Code Certificate required.

For us landscape architects it has provided an opportunity to create diverse and rich landscape schemes that have delivered widespread ecological benefits and biodiversity enhancements, since a proportion of the Code assessment quantified the ecological gain of the proposed site when compared to the existing situation. Our ecologist Susan Deakin regularly carries out ecological assessments (including Code Assessments) for many residential schemes, as well as advising on how the landscape proposals could deliver greater biodiversity gains. This award winning scheme at RAF Bentley Priory achieved Code level 4 with the help of substantial biodiversity enhancements, including the planting of new native woodland belts, extensive areas of species rich wildflower meadow and a palette of predominantly native planting.

RAF Bentley Priory

So what does this change mean for developers in the residential sector going forward? Those schemes which already have a legal obligation to meet a particular Code level and where planning conditions relate to Code for Sustainable Homes, these will still apply and the scheme will remain open in order to fulfil such obligations. Housing developers may wish to appeal or seek to remove planning conditions related to the Code, given the change in legislation but this will be dealt with on a case by case basis at the discretion of the local authority.

The change in legislation was of course brought in by the government as one of several measures to help speed up and streamline the planning process, so that more homes can be built at a faster rate to cope with the ever growing demand. Hopefully house builders have recognised the benefits of delivering sustainable homes and whilst the obligations of the Code may have been removed, we anticipate the principles will live on and we will continue to build sustainable homes in attractive landscape settings, whilst minimising potentially adverse effects on our environment and natural resources.